Preserving the art of good old chit-chat

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The Independent Online

"It's been a good year for walnuts," said the man with the dog, as he sat down with his first pint of the evening. "Masses of them."

"It's been a good year for walnuts," said the man with the dog, as he sat down with his first pint of the evening. "Masses of them."

"And have you picked any?", said the lady with the black hairdo, with white highlights. (I think I have mentioned before that she likes to match the colour of her hair to her current tipple. She is on the Guinness at the moment.)

"Well, no, not exactly," said the man. "I just happened to notice that ..."

"That's the trouble with people," said the lady. "They look around the landscape and see that there are plenty of berries and seeds and nuts and things, but they don't do anything about it. In the old days, country folk would be hard at it, picking the stuff and preserving it. We've lost all those old arts."

"No, we haven't," said the man with the dog. "You still get pickled walnuts. And pickled onions and pickled eggs."

"That was always the trouble," said the resident Welshman. "There never were any old arts - there was only ever one art, and that was pickling. Whatever grew in the countryside had to be preserved, and there was only one way of preserving things, and that was putting it in vinegar, and that is why everything always ended up tasting exactly the same. Of vinegar."

"I remember one year," said the man with the dog, "my wife decided that she would try to preserve nasturtium seeds, which are said to taste a lot like capers, so she picked all our nasturtium seed heads at the end of the season, and pickled them in spicy vinegar, and carefully saved them in the larder in a jar."

"And then they tasted of vinegar?" said the Welshman.

"I don't know," said the man with the dog. "We found them next spring in the larder, and couldn't remember what they were. They didn't have a label on, and nobody recognised them, and we didn't like to take a chance on the contents, so we threw them away. But my wife felt she had at least done it, and she sometimes proudly refers to 'the year we pickled the nasturtium seeds', as if it had been a success."

"It's the same story as videos," said the Welshman.

"How so?" said the lady.

"Well, it seems that videos are finally being phased out in favour of DVDs," he said, "and they're going to stop selling VCR machines, so pretty soon we won't have the equipment to play back our old videotapes. And we'll have to throw them all away. It'll be the nasturtium seeds all over again. We'll find loads of videos on the shelf, all unlabelled and dusty and horrible, and rather than take a chance, we'll just chuck them away, unwatched, untasted."

"Isn't there a programme on television about all this?" said the Major, who had been listening from behind his moustache. "Don't two ladies come into your house and tell you what to throw away?"

"That's ironic, that is," said the Welshman. "You have this programme about two ladies who tell you what to throw away, so you tape it and mean to watch it later, but you never get round to it, and then video machines disappear, so you throw away this video of the two ladies telling you what to throw away..."

"The odd thing is," said the Major, "that we're obsessed with throwing things away but we're also obsessed with not throwing them away. One lot says, Get rid of it! The other lot says, Recycle it!"

Just then, someone new came in and, by way of greeting, said: "Anyone noticed what a grand year for hazelnuts it's been?" He was greeted by an unexpected chorus of groans and boos.

"Tell you what," said the Welshman, "instead of recycling the whole damned conversation, why don't we just throw it away and start a new one?"

So we did.

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